Greg Rutherford of Great Britain competes in the Men's Long Jump Final on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 4, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News London, UK

Rutherford: ‘This is what I have dreamt of my entire life’

The announcer in the stadium caused a rapturous response from the crowd when he suggested before the start of the session that there could be two gold medals for Great Britain that evening. Obviously he had thought about Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah. But it got even better: Greg Rutherford became the first British Olympic Long Jump champion since Lynn Davies, who had won this gold medal in Tokyo back in 1964. These two are the only British winners of the discipline in Olympic history.

"This is what I have dreamt of my entire life," said the 25-year-old from Milton Keynes north of London, who took the lead in round two with 8.21m. On an amazing British Olympic night there was another emotional climax: It was just seconds before they were to introduce Jessica Ennis for the 800 m in the Heptathlon when Rutherford improved his lead to 8.31m in round four. The stadium seemed to explode with Jessica Ennis setting off seconds later.

"What a night for British athletics – three gold medals out of a possible three. I got to see my folks in the crowd," Rutherford said after his round of honour on the track. "I don’t think it has sunk in properly. I knew I knew I was going to be a sportsman and when I picked athletics I knew I wanted to be Olympic champion – I might wake up in a minute."

"I thought I was going to jump further," said Rutherford, who led a relatively low key Long Jump final, where he was the only one to jump further than 8.20m. That hasn’t happened in such a final since 1976 in Montreal. "But I am Olympic Champion, so who cares?"

His closest rivals praised the British Olympic champion. "I am really happy for him. He deserved to win gold today, because he had some good jumps. Additionally Greg is my closest friend on the athletics circuit," said silver medallist Mitchell Watt (Australia/8.16m).

"He is a good guy and he did his country definitely well tonight. They wanted him to come here and to win the gold and he did it. I am proud to have jumped against him here in the Olympic final," added Will Claye (USA), who took the bronze medal with 8.12m.

Rutherford played badminton, rugby and especially football before he turned to athletics. In football he had been very good as well and there is a family tradition. His great grandfather Jock Rutherford was an international for England between 1904 and 1908. It looked as if the younger Rutherford might have a future in football because he had a trial with Premier League club Aston Villa as a boy.

When he finally turned to athletics he had instant success. At 18 he won the national Junior Championships indoors with 7.51m. In the summer he went on to take the European Junior Championships with a British Junior record of 8.14m. He also did quite a lot of sprinting in his first major year in athletics. In the 100m he now features a personal best of 10.26, which he ran in 2010.

In 2006 Rutherford continued his rise in the Long Jump, improving to 8.26m and then winning a silver medal in the European Championships. In the same year he placed eighth in the Commonwealth Games. But then there were no major improvements or big international wins in the next few years.

After a tenth place in the Olympic Games in 2008 Rutherford took fifth at the Berlin World Championships a year later, after jumping a British record of 8.30m in the qualifying round. There was a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games in 2010 later for him, but his first major win in an international championship came yesterday in London. He had been among the favourites since he is the world leader with 8.35m, with which he had equalled the British record of Chris Tomlinson.

Coached by Dan Pfaff, who had for example guided Canada’s Donovan Bailey to an Olympic 100m triumph in 1996, Rutherford described him as "Incredible – I have to thank him and my therapist Gerry Ramogida." In an earlier interview the Olympic champion said that under Pfaff he had learnt to copy something of the Long Jump technique of Carl Lewis.

Since Saturday evening he has something strange in common with another athlete, who is among the greatest ever: Sergey Bubka. When the Pole Vaulter took his first major title at the World Championships in 1983 he did all the after-race formalities except one: Bubka missed the winners’ press conference because he had not been aware that it existed. Instead he went back to the athletes’ accommodation. On late Saturday evening international journalists waited for Rutherford to speak to them after his first major gold, but he never turned up! Maybe Rutherford can do more things the Bubka way in future.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF